Presentation: “Agamben, Paul, and the Oath”

This afternoon, I was invited by my friend Virgil (Bill) Brower to give a presentation at Northwestern under the auspices of the Paul of Tarsus Reading Group. The topic is Agamben’s engagement with Paul in The Sacrament of Language, and you can read the text of my presentation here (PDF).

11 thoughts on “Presentation: “Agamben, Paul, and the Oath”

  1. Adam,

    I am really excited to see your next project is on the devil. Politics of Redemption left me wanting more Satan! I was wondering if you are familiar with “Constructing Antichrist” by Kevin Hughes? He traces the development of the doctrine of the Antichrist through the interpretation of 2nd Thessalonians in the Middle Ages. Full disclosure: he is married to my cousin and gave me a free copy. That being said, it is interesting and might be useful.

  2. Having read the presentation, which unlike the myriad commentaries I’ve read on Galatians, makes Paul’s universalism with difference coherent, I have to say that I am struck by the similarities between your conclusions and Yoder’s in Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited. Primarily, Yoder also elevated Rabbinic Judaism as a model. He tied his praise of it more closely to diaspora than to a playful relation to the law, like you do. But could the coming community be anything other than exilic today? (I recognize this question gets at the recurring globalist/localist debate on AUFS.) The second similarity to Yoder, or the radical reformation traditions more generally, is the indifference to the law via a focus upon its “spirit” and of course, those traditions’ separation of the intent of the law from force, e.g. pacifism. (Of course, that is not to say the radical reformation traditions don’t have their own “coercive” measures, e.g. the “ban”.) Thanks for sharing it.

  3. That’s a remarkable paper, and to my mind exactly on target with respect to the question of law in Paul. Romans, for example, makes sense as a messianic political manifesto (as I take it) only in light of this understanding of law. I concur with Darren about the connection between your essay and Yoder’s take on Judaism in Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited; though I would add that while Yoder does indeed focus on the condition of Diaspora, he often refers to the fact that rabbinic Judaism is constituted by, among other things, ongoing ‘unregulated’ readings of the Torah. Yoder also points to the fact that ‘pacifist’ readings of death penalty texts in the Torah had begun even before Jesus’ time. (I’d try to supply you with page references, but I am at home and my copy of the book is at my office.) In any case, thanks for putting this essay up for us to read. I for one will be referring to it frequently–and eagerly awaiting the publication of Agamben’s book.

  4. Thanks for the post, Adam! You have just inspired me to pick up and read Agamben’s book (I got it for Xmas but in the midst of doctoral work, it sits)! I think you are spot on with your analysis of the way Christians often talk about the “Jewish” law (if I hear the word legalism one more time…).

    By the way, have you seen the new Agamben and Theology book just released?

  5. I think the question about what law the Gentiles are under (and thus cursed) to be an important an interesting one. Przywara’s interpretation of Galatians takes this law to cosmological and astrological cycles, powers, and deities, but I think the “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” fits better with a political interpretation (or at least in Galatians). How would this relate to Paul’s comments about (possibly Christian, possibly non-Christian) Gentiles and law in Romans 2:15-16?

  6. That’s a good question. I’m not totally sure, but my thought would be that Paul believes that they are acting in accordance with the “good part” of the law, in part because they’re acting out of extra-legal motives (glory, honor, and immortality) rather than out of fear of punishment, etc.

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